An effort by Democrats in the Minnesota House to ban conversion therapy in the state didn't gain traction in the last session, but Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka — who blocked the ban — might have just unwittingly brought the debate right back.
In an interview with Truth & Liberty Coalition around Thanksgiving, Gazelka waded into the debate on the controversial practice that tries to turn gay people straight with prayer or counseling. He recalled something he once heard.
"I listened to one speaker and he was talking about a lady that was lesbian. And he said, 'Before you judge her, let me just tell you her back story.' He was a counselor," Gazelka recalled. "And he said, 'She was chained to a toilet as a, like, 2, 3, 4, 5-year-old girl and raped by her dad, for years and years. How do you think she's going to feel?' "
In another part of the interview, he brought up a conversation he had with a gay constituent who had visited his office:
"I said, 'Can I ask you a question? Were you raised by your mom and dad or was it just your mom?' Because a lot of the time, same-sex attraction, there's not a good connection with the biological parent of … the same sex. And he says, 'It's funny you say that, because my mom and my grandma raised me.' "
The DFL Party got hold of the video this week, after first being reported by politics website the Minnesota Reformer, and folks there didn't like what they saw. In a statement, party spokesman Brian Evans, who is gay, said Gazelka's "deeply prejudiced beliefs are rooted in the misguided notion that homosexuality is a defect in someone to be corrected."
It's not a new criticism for Gazelka, whose fervent Christian faith has been woven into his politics and policies at the Capitol since Day One. "A lot of my job frankly is stopping the onslaught of the left from continually moving us in a way that we know is contrary to the Bible," Gazelka said on the Truth & Liberty livestream.
There's some history here. Back in 2010, Gazelka was recruited by Republicans to take on Paul Koering — the only openly gay Republican to serve in the Senate. It was revealed that Koering dined in his district with a popular gay porn star. Gazelka said he was compelled to run.
He won, and a year later was lead author on an unsuccessful amendment to ban gay marriage in the state's Constitution.
Last spring, Gazelka found himself in the middle of the debate over banning conversion therapy for minors. House Democrats passed it, but the bill was stalled in the Senate.
One of Gazelka's five children, Genna, who goes by the pronoun they, told the Star Tribune that their father sent them to an anti-same-sex relationship therapist as a teenager after they came out as a lesbian.
At the time, Gazelka said he was trying to find a compromise with DFLers to ban coercive therapy techniques on people under 18 while still allowing pastors to counsel people.
In the end, any compromise fell apart, but Democrats are still pushing. Minneapolis recently passed its own ban on conversion therapy, hoping it might push lawmakers to strike a deal in St. Paul.
But Evans said he isn't holding his breath. Government is still divided, and Gazelka's comments weren't encouraging for backers of lifting the ban.